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Belly up to the bar: how to find the best cereal, snack, and granola bars.

Back in the 1980s, a stroke of marketing genius led cereal companies to press healthy-sounding granola into bar shapes that you could eat on the run.

Today, they've replaced much--if not all--of the granola's whole-grain oats with "crisp" (read: sugar-coated) white rice, white flour, a smorgasbord of sugars, and candy fixin's like chocolate, marshmallow, icing, and caramel.

The bar market now stretches from unabashed junk (Hershey's Snack Barz, Kellogg's Go-Tarts) to what appears to be good for you (Kellogg's Nutri-Grain Yogurt, Raisin Bran Crunch Bars).

We picked Best Bites and Honorable Mentions to help you find the best bars (see "Bar Hopping," p. 13). Check our photos for some tips and some tricks to watch out for.

Just keep in mind that even the best bars don't hold a candle to fruits, vegetables, salads, yogurt, or healthy sandwiches. Bars are convenient because they're shelf-stable, compact, and individually wrapped. But there's nothing special about the sweetened stuff inside. Wholesome foods beat bars hands down.

The information for this article was compiled by Heather Jones.

Cookie Confession

What's the difference between Quaker Oatmeal to Go Oatmeal Raisin Breakfast Bars and Quaker Oatmeal Raisin Breakfast Cookies? Not much.

The bars are slightly heavier, so they have slightly more calories, sugar, potassium, and vitamins. (They're also a bit lower in saturated fat--low enough for an Honorable Mention.) Everything else--including fiber, at an impressive-for-bars 5 grams--is about the same.

There's a message here. Many breakfast bars are essentially oatmeal cookies fortified with a handful of vitamins. Others are little more than vitamin-fortified Rice Krispies Treats.

The marketers want you to believe that bars are somehow better than ordinary food. Don't buy it.

Battle of the Brans

Whether or not people know that bran--the outer layer of the wheat, oat, or rice kernel--is rich in fiber and other nutrients, they know that it's healthy.

But all bran bars aren't as healthy as Kellogg's All-Bran Bars. Each has about 130 calories, 5 grams of fiber, only half a gram of saturated fat, and no refined grains. They're not low in sugar, but at least the sugar comes with a good chunk of your daily fiber requirement.

In contrast, Post Raisin Bran Cereal Bars have less fiber (3 grams) and some refined "wheat flakes" mixed in with their whole grains. Even so, they're head and shoulders above Kellogg's Raisin Bran Crunch Bars.

Like Raisin Bran Crunch cereal, the Crunch Bars have more white rice than any whole grain, leaving each bar with only one gram of fiber. That's pretty pathetic for a food with "Bran" in its name.

Best Bar None

Kashi's new TLCs (Tasty Little Crunchies or Chewies) keep it simple. They've got Kashi's blend of seven whole grains (oats, wheat, rye, triticale, barley, brown rice, buckwheat) and sesame seeds, held together largely by evaporated cane juice syrup, canola oil, and honey.

M-m-m. No aroma of Rice Krispies Treats here.

Each pair of Crunchies--they come two to a wrapper--will cost you 180 calories. But those calories come with 4 grams of fiber and 6 or 7 grams of protein (rather than the usual 2 or 3 grams). What's more, Kashi keeps the sugars to a low-for-bars 7 grams.

If you like whole grains that taste whole, TLC Takes Le Cake.

In Pursuit of Protein

If you're trying to avoid an all-carb snack or find that protein helps curb your appetite, you won't have much luck in the bar aisle. (Some Luna, Clif, and other energy bars have more protein, but we skipped them.)

Most cereal or granola bars have just 2 or 3 grams of protein. Even Special K's new Protein Snack Bars have only 4 grams. (That's less than the 5 grams a food needs to make a "good source of protein" claim.)

Exception: South Beach makes High Protein Cereal Bars with 10 grams of protein, largely from soy. They have too much saturated fat (2 or 3 grams) to earn a Best Bite or Honorable Mention. But if you're looking for protein to stuff in your pocket, South Beach pairs it with fiber (3 grams) and less sugar (7 grams) than usual.

Don't confuse South Beach's Cereal Bars with its low-protein 100 Calorie Snack Bars or its high-protein Meal Replacement Bars, which are a poor excuse for a meal.

"The South Beach Diet is a delicious way of eating based on lean protein, whole grains, vegetables, unsaturated fats and fiber," say the labels. What does that have to do with the soy protein isolate, maltitol syrup, peanut butter, fractionated palm kernel oil, etc., in South Beach's bars?

Heart Talk

Nature Valley Healthy Heart Bars and Kellogg's Smart Start Healthy Heart Bars are both Honorable Mentions that sure sound the same. They're not.

Nature Valley adds 0.4 grams of plant sterols to each bar. Eating two bars a day could lower your total cholesterol by about 5 percent, at a cost of some 300 calories. You'd have to eat three Smart Start Bars every day (each has 1 gram of soluble fiber from oats) to get the same 5 percent drop, but now you're talking 450 calories.

What about Smart Start's claim that it can lower blood pressure because it's low in sodium and high in potassium? Smart Start (85 milligrams per bar) is low in sodium, but so are Nature Valley (around 100 mg) and most other bars.

And Smart Start does have more blood-pressure-lowering potassium (350 mg) than Nature Valley (about 90 mg). But the potassium chloride that Kellogg adds to Smart Start isn't as good as the potassium citrate in fruits and vegetables. Both lower blood pressure, but citrate also helps prevent kidney stones and bone loss.

If you're wondering what to snack on, that's a clue.

When in Rome ...

Whole wheat flour, dried fruit, fruit puree, fruit juice concentrate, and whole-grain oats, rye, and barley. Those are the main ingredients in Roman Meal 100% Whole Grain Snack Bars, which come in Cranberry Walnut, Oatmeal Raisin, and Apple Cinnamon.

Each bar has some 200 calories, but at least you'll spend them on ingredients that belong in a kitchen. Other reasons to try them: the fiber (5 grams) and potassium (250 to 320 mg, most of it from their fruit).

But the most compelling reason comes not from the label, but from what's inside it. Roman Meal makes one of the best-tasting Best Bite bars you can find.

The only problem: you may have trouble finding them. So far, the only major supermarkets that carry them are Krogers and Ralphs.
Bar Hopping

Best Bites ([check][check]) and Honorable Mentions ([check]) have
at least two grams of fiber and no more than one gram of bad fat
(saturated plus trans, though there's little or no trans in most
bars). In addition, Best Bites are 100% whole grain while
Honorable Mentions can contain some refined grain as long
as oats or another whole grain is the first grain in the
ingredients list.

Products are ranked from most to least fiber, then
least to most bad fat, calories, and sugar.

 Saturated
 + Trans
 Fat
 Calories (grams)

 South Beach Diet Meal
 Replacement
 (2.1 oz.) (1) 210 3

 Roman Meal 100% Whole Grain
[check] [check] Snack (2.0 oz.) (1) 190 0
 Kellogg's All-Bran
[check] [check] (1.1 oz) (1) 130 0.5
 Quaker Oatmeal to Go
 [check] Breakfast (2.1 oz.) (1) 220 1
 Kellogg's All-Bran Snack
 Bites (1.0 oz.) (1) 110 1.5
 Quaker Breakfast Cookies
 (1.7 oz) (1) 180 1.5

 Kashi TLC Chewy
[check] [check] (1.2 oz.) (1) 140 0.5
 Kashi TLC Crunchy
[check] [check] (2 bars--1.4 oz.) (1) 180 0.5
 Country Choice Squares
 [check] (2.0 oz.) (1) 200 0.5
 TastyKake Sensables
 (1.2 oz.) (1) 140 4

 Post Raisin Bran Cereal
 [check] (1.2 oz.) (1) 120 0
 Nature Valley Healthy
 [check] Heart (1.4 oz.) (1) 160 0.5
 Quaker Chewy 25% Less
 [check] Sugar (0.8 oz.) (1) 100 1
 Barbara's Bakery Puffins-
 French Toast, Blueberry
 Yogurt, or Strawberry
 [check] Yogurt (1.3 oz.) (2) 130 1
 Uncle Sam Oatmeal Raisin
[check] [check] Cereal (1.8 oz.) 180 1
 Barbara's Bakery Crunchy
 Organic Granola
[check] [check] (2 bars--1.5 oz.) (1) 200 1
 Fi-bar Low Fat
 (1.2 oz.) (1) 120 1.5
 South Beach Diet 100
 Calorie Snack
 (1.0 oz.) (1) 100 2
 South Beach Diet High
 Protein Cereal
 (1.2 oz.) (1) 140 2.5

 Nature's Choice Multigrain
 [check] Cereal (1.3 oz.) (1) 120 0
 Kellogg's Smart Start
 Healthy Heart
 [check] (1.4 oz.) (1) 150 0
 Quaker Breakfast Bites 25%
 Less Sugar (1.3 oz.) (1) 130 0.5
[check] [check] Nature's Path Organic Hemp
 Plus Raisins Granola
 (1.4 oz) 130 0.5
 Sunbelt Oats & Honey
 [check] Crunchy Granola 140 0.5
 (1.0 oz.)
[check] [check] Nature's Path Organic Flax
 Plus Pumpkin
 Granola (1.4 oz.) 150 0.5
 [check] Nature Valley Crunchy
 Granola--Cinnamon, Maple
 Brown Sugar, or Oats'N
 Honey (2 bars-
 1.5 oz.) (2) 180 0.5
 [check] Odwalla Nourishing Food Bar
[check] [check] (1.1 oz.) (l) 120 1
 [check] Sunbelt Lowfat Oatmeal
 Raisin Chewy Granola
 [check] (1.2 oz.) 140 1
[check] [check] Natures Path Organic Peanut
 [check] Butter Granola (1.4 oz.) 160 1
 Kellogg's Granola Munch'ems
 (1.1 oz.) (1) 130 1.5
 Skippy Triple Nut Trail
 Mix (1.2 oz.) 170 1.5
 Quaker Q-Smart 120 2
 (1.0 oz.) (1A)
 Kellogg's Crunchy Nut Sweet
 & Salty (1.1 oz.) (1) 160 2.5
 Nature Valley Sweet & Salty
 Nut (1.2 oz.) (1) 160 2.5
 Sunbelt Golden Almond
 Chewy Granola (1.0 oz.) 130 3
 Hershey's Sweet & Salty
 Granola (1.8 oz.) (1) 250 3
 Sunbelt Chocolate Chip
 Chewy Granola
 (1.2 oz.) 160 4
 Kellogg's Special K Protein
 Meal (1.6 oz.) (1) 190 4
 Sunbelt Fudge Dipped Chewy
 Granola--Chocolate Chip
 or Coconut (1.4 oz) (2) 210 8

 Nature's Choice Granola
 (0.7 oz.) (1) 80 0
 Quaker Chewy 90 Calorie
 (1.0 oz.) (1) 90 0
 Health Valley Cereal or
 Tarts (1.4 oz.) (2) 130 0
 Health Valley Peanut Butter
 (1.3 oz.) (1) 130 0
 Barbara's Bakery Fruit &
 Yogurt (1.5 oz.) (1) 150 0
 Kellogg's Special K Snack
 Bites (0.8 oz.) (1) 90 0.5
 Kellogg's Crunch
 (1.0 oz.) (1) 110 0.5
 Quaker Crunchy
 (2 bars-1.0 oz.) (1) 130 0.5
 Quaker Breakfast 25% Less
 Sugar (1.3 oz.) (1) 130 0.5
 Cascadian Farm Organic
 Chewy (1.2 oz.) (1) 140 0.5
 Kellogg's Nutri-Grain
 Cereal (1.3 oz.) (1) 140 0.5
 Nature Valley Chewy Trail
 Mix (1.2 oz.) (1) 140 0.5
 Kellogg's Nutri-Grain
 Yogurt (1.3 oz.) (1) 140 0.5
 Kellogg's Nutri-Grain
 Muffin (1.6 oz.) (1) 170 0.5
 Health Valley Moist &
 Chewy Granola
 (1.0 oz.) (1) 110 1
 Quaker Strawberry & Graham
 Breakfast Graham 25%
 Less Sugar (1.1 oz.) 120 1
 Quaker Chewy (1.0 oz.) (1) 120 1
 Sunbelt Fruit and Grain
 (1.4 oz) (1) 140 1
 Quaker Cranberry Raisin &
 Almond Trail
 Mix (1.2 oz.) 150 1
 Health Valley Low Fat
 Granola (1.5 oz.) (1) 150 1
 Post Honey Bunches of Oats
 Cereal (1.2 oz.) (1) 140 1.5
 TastyKake Fruit & Yogurt
 Breakfast (2.0 oz.) (1) 230 1.5
 Kudos (0.9 oz.) (1) 110 2
 Kellogg's Special K
 Protein Snack
 (0.9 oz.) (1) 110 2
 Fi-bar Chewy & Nutty
 Granola (1.2 oz.) (1) 140 2
 Nature Valley Yogurt Chewy
 Granola (1.2 oz.) (1) 140 2
 General Mills Caribou
 Coffee (1.2 oz.) (1) 140 2
 Kellogg's Go-Tarts
 (1.2 oz.) (1) 140 2
 Entenmann's Multi-grain
 (1.3 oz.) (1) 140 2
 General Mills Milk in
 Cereal (1.5 oz.) (1) 170 2
 Kellogg's Cinnamania
 (1.8 oz.) (1) 230 2
 Kellogg's Crunchamania
 (1.8 oz.) (1) 230 2
 Hershey's or Reese's
 Snacksters (0.7 oz.) (1) 100 2.5
 Sunbelt Oats & Honey Chewy
 Granola (1.0 oz.) 130 3
 Sunbelt S'mores Chewy
 Granola (1.1 oz.) 140 3
 Skippy Peanut Butter
 Snack (1.2 oz.) 170 4.5
 TastyKake Snak
 (2.0 oz.) (1) 240 4.5
 Quaker Chewy Dipps
 (1.1 oz.) (1) 150 5
 Skippy Peanut Butter &
 Fudge Snack (1.3 oz.) 190 6

 Kellogg's Rice Krispies
 Treats Original
 (0.8 oz.) 90 1
 Kellogg's Special K
 (0.8 oz.) (1) 90 1
 Hershey's Snack Barz 120 2
 (0.9 oz.) (1)
 Fiber Sugar *
 (grams) (grams)

 South Beach Diet Meal
 Replacement
 (2.1 oz.) (1) 6 1

 Roman Meal 100% Whole Grain
[check] [check] Snack (2.0 oz.) (1) 5 16
 Kellogg's All-Bran
[check] [check] (1.1 oz) (1) 5 11
 Quaker Oatmeal to Go
 [check] Breakfast (2.1 oz.) (1) 5 19
 Kellogg's All-Bran Snack
 Bites (1.0 oz.) (1) 5 10
 Quaker Breakfast Cookies
 (1.7 oz) (1) 5 15

 Kashi TLC Chewy
[check] [check] (1.2 oz.) (1) 4 6
 Kashi TLC Crunchy
[check] [check] (2 bars--1.4 oz.) (1) 4 7
 Country Choice Squares
 [check] (2.0 oz.) (1) 4 18
 TastyKake Sensables
 (1.2 oz.) (1) 4 0

 Post Raisin Bran Cereal
 [check] (1.2 oz.) (1) 3 9
 Nature Valley Healthy
 [check] Heart (1.4 oz.) (1) 3 14
 Quaker Chewy 25% Less
 [check] Sugar (0.8 oz.) (1) 3 5
 Barbara's Bakery Puffins-
 French Toast, Blueberry
 Yogurt, or Strawberry
 [check] Yogurt (1.3 oz.) (2) 3 8
 Uncle Sam Oatmeal Raisin
[check] [check] Cereal (1.8 oz.) 3 16
 Barbara's Bakery Crunchy
 Organic Granola
[check] [check] (2 bars--1.5 oz.) (1) 3 10
 Fi-bar Low Fat
 (1.2 oz.) (1) 3 13
 South Beach Diet 100
 Calorie Snack
 (1.0 oz.) (1) 3 4
 South Beach Diet High
 Protein Cereal
 (1.2 oz.) (1) 3 7

 Nature's Choice Multigrain
 [check] Cereal (1.3 oz.) (1) 2 13
 Kellogg's Smart Start
 Healthy Heart
 [check] (1.4 oz.) (1) 2 13
 Quaker Breakfast Bites 25%
 Less Sugar (1.3 oz.) (1) 2 9
[check] [check] Nature's Path Organic Hemp
 Plus Raisins Granola
 (1.4 oz) 2 14
 Sunbelt Oats & Honey
 [check] Crunchy Granola 2 9
 (1.0 oz.)
[check] [check] Nature's Path Organic Flax
 Plus Pumpkin
 Granola (1.4 oz.) 2 12
 [check] Nature Valley Crunchy
 Granola--Cinnamon, Maple
 Brown Sugar, or Oats'N
 Honey (2 bars-
 1.5 oz.) (2) 2 11
 Odwalla Nourishing Food Bar
[check] [check] (1.1 oz.) (l) 2 9
 [check] Sunbelt Lowfat Oatmeal
 Raisin Chewy Granola
 (1.2 oz.) 2 14
[check] [check] Natures Path Organic Peanut
 Butter Granola (1.4 oz.) 2 11
 Kellogg's Granola Munch'ems
 (1.1 oz.) (1) 2 9
 Skippy Triple Nut Trail
 Mix (1.2 oz.) 2 8
 Quaker Q-Smart 2 1
 (1.0 oz.) (1A)
 Kellogg's Crunchy Nut Sweet
 & Salty (1.1 oz.) (1) 2 10
 Nature Valley Sweet & Salty
 Nut (1.2 oz.) (1) 2 12
 Sunbelt Golden Almond
 Chewy Granola (1.0 oz.) 2 8
 Hershey's Sweet & Salty
 Granola (1.8 oz.) (1) 2 16
 Sunbelt Chocolate Chip
 Chewy Granola
 (1.2 oz.) 2 12
 Kellogg's Special K Protein
 Meal (1.6 oz.) (1) 2 17
 Sunbelt Fudge Dipped Chewy
 Granola--Chocolate Chip
 or Coconut (1.4 oz) (2) 2 15

 Nature's Choice Granola
 (0.7 oz.) (1) 1 7
 Quaker Chewy 90 Calorie
 (1.0 oz.) (1) 1 7
 Health Valley Cereal or
 Tarts (1.4 oz.) (2) 1 14
 Health Valley Peanut Butter
 (1.3 oz.) (1) 1 15
 Barbara's Bakery Fruit &
 Yogurt (1.5 oz.) (1) 1 15
 Kellogg's Special K Snack
 Bites (0.8 oz.) (1) 1 7
 Kellogg's Crunch
 (1.0 oz.) (1) 1 9
 Quaker Crunchy
 (2 bars-1.0 oz.) (1) 1 8
 Quaker Breakfast 25% Less
 Sugar (1.3 oz.) (1) 1 9
 Cascadian Farm Organic
 Chewy (1.2 oz.) (1) 1 11
 Kellogg's Nutri-Grain
 Cereal (1.3 oz.) (1) 1 13
 Nature Valley Chewy Trail
 Mix (1.2 oz.) (1) 1 13
 Kellogg's Nutri-Grain
 Yogurt (1.3 oz.) (1) 1 14
 Kellogg's Nutri-Grain
 Muffin (1.6 oz.) (1) 1 17
 Health Valley Moist &
 Chewy Granola
 (1.0 oz.) (1) 1 10
 Quaker Strawberry & Graham
 Breakfast Graham 25%
 Less Sugar (1.1 oz.) 1 7
 Quaker Chewy (1.0 oz.) (1) 1 9
 Sunbelt Fruit and Grain
 (1.4 oz) (1) 1 17
 Quaker Cranberry Raisin &
 Almond Trail
 Mix (1.2 oz.) 1 10
 Health Valley Low Fat
 Granola (1.5 oz.) (1) 1 12
 Post Honey Bunches of Oats
 Cereal (1.2 oz.) (1) 1 10
 TastyKake Fruit & Yogurt
 Breakfast (2.0 oz.) (1) 1 24
 Kudos (0.9 oz.) (1) 1 10
 Kellogg's Special K
 Protein Snack
 (0.9 oz.) (1) 1 12
 Fi-bar Chewy & Nutty
 Granola (1.2 oz.) (1) 1 12
 Nature Valley Yogurt Chewy
 Granola (1.2 oz.) (1) 1 13
 General Mills Caribou
 Coffee (1.2 oz.) (1) 1 14
 Kellogg's Go-Tarts
 (1.2 oz.) (1) 1 14
 Entenmann's Multi-grain
 (1.3 oz.) (1) 1 15
 General Mills Milk in
 Cereal (1.5 oz.) (1) 1 15
 Kellogg's Cinnamania
 (1.8 oz.) (1) 1 13
 Kellogg's Crunchamania
 (1.8 oz.) (1) 1 13
 Hershey's or Reese's
 Snacksters (0.7 oz.) (1) 1 9
 Sunbelt Oats & Honey Chewy
 Granola (1.0 oz.) 1 8
 Sunbelt S'mores Chewy
 Granola (1.1 oz.) 1 11
 Skippy Peanut Butter
 Snack (1.2 oz.) 1 10
 TastyKake Snak
 (2.0 oz.) (1) 1 23
 Quaker Chewy Dipps
 (1.1 oz.) (1) 1 13
 Skippy Peanut Butter &
 Fudge Snack (1.3 oz.) 1 14

 Kellogg's Rice Krispies
 Treats Original
 (0.8 oz.) 0 8
 Kellogg's Special K
 (0.8 oz.) (1) 0 8
 Hershey's Snack Barz 0 11
 (0.9 oz.) (1)

[check] [check] Best Bite. [check] Honorable Mention. * Includes
naturally occurring sugar from any raisins or other fruit.

(1) Average of all varieties.

(2) Average of the varieties listed. (A) Contains the poorly tested
artificial sweetener acesulfame potassium.

Daily Limits (for a 2,000-calorie diet): Saturated+Trans Fat: 20 grams.
Fiber: at least 25 grams. Sugar: 40 grams (10 teaspoons).

Source: company information.

The use of information from this article for commercial purposes is
strictly prohibited without written permission from CSPI.
COPYRIGHT 2006 Center for Science in the Public Interest
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:BRAND-NAME RATING
Author:Liebman, Bonnie
Publication:Nutrition Action Healthletter
Date:Dec 1, 2006
Words:3016
Previous Article:Unsalty kids.
Next Article:Take it slow.
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